Ryan Thorburn’s career has taken him across the world to Tokyo and south to Haiti for reactive measures, but he’s counting on his current trip to Mexico to be much more proactive.
The Comox paramedic was a member of the Canadian Medical Assistance Teams which deployed its rapid disaster assessment team to Sendai, Japan in March 2011 following the devastating 9.0-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami.
In 2010, Thorburn volunteered with CMAT, working in Haiti following their catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake.
Now, with an ambulance full of donated wheelchairs, walkers, crutches and canes, he is en route to El Tuito, an area about an hour south of Puerto Vallarta, with the goal of helping residents with safe and comfortable medical transport.
“I work for BC Ambulance and I wanted to buy one of the older ambulances and do something with it … I thought that taking it to a small place in Mexico would be kind of fun. That’s what I did. This is from the fleet – it’s actually a Port Hardy ambulance – it was decommissioned. I purchased it from asset disposal through the BC Government. With a few fixes and a few dollars, it’s running tip-top now.”
Thorburn began raising money with the help of friends and family but quickly realized it wasn’t going to be enough. Strathcona Sunrise Rotary Club accepted his initiative as their international project and gave him the destination of El Tuito.
“We’ve done a lot of fundraising. A lot of Mexican dinners, and I’ve hit up all my friends and family for support, and the fire department. We’ve all pitched in.”
Driving down with a friend who works as a wastewater specialist, Thorburn left last week and hopes to be in the region by mid-week this week.
While the ambulance itself won’t be used to make house calls, it will be doing transfers between the clinic in El Tuito, which serves 15 villages, and Puerto Vallarta.
“The actual health clinic isn’t even open yet – it’s going to be open in the new year and they don’t have a way to comfortably take patients from the clinic to Puerto Vallarta. There are people there who are eagerly awaiting for wheelchairs right now … just the basics that would help the clinic get by.”
While Thorburn is used to the Canadian health system, he understands the various medical standards around the world.
Many people, particularly those in El Tuito, take care of themselves, and take it upon their own families to make it to health clinics, he noted. He hopes to alleviate some of that pressure with use of the ambulance.
“It’s more of a proactive service as opposed to a reactive service. Hopefully it’ll be useful and in the future if they extend their care at the clinic to go door-to-door maybe I can be involved in going down more. So (the ambulance) will provide some comfort and a decent asset for the clinic.”
While he admitted the trip is different than travelling to Haiti or Japan – particularly emotionally – one issue that Thorburn has thought about is his safety.
Last month, two Australian travellers who were on a road trip from Edmonton to Guadalajara were found dead in a burnt-out shell of a van in the Sinaloa region of Mexico.
In 2014, a 33-year-old New York stock trader disappeared while travelling to Brazil for the World Cup on his motorcycle. His body was found later near the resort town of Zihuatanejo, in the state of Guerrero.
Thorburn explained he has worked through a lot of the paperwork necessary for the trip, but takes comfort in looking at the bigger picture.
“I do have to travel through the area where the Edmonton fellows (travelled). I am worried, but if you look at the big numbers – the number of tourists who have gone to Mexico and did not encounter any problems – it’s okay. There’s a Rotary Club down there that’s going to receive me when I get there.”
He plans on crossing the border at Tijuana Dec. 8 or 9, and will return on Dec. 19, after teaching first aid and delivering the equipment and ambulance.
–Photo courtesy CTV Vancouver Island